Tuesday, November 28, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 3: Finding the way home to God -- the impact of Kairos

Monday last, we looked at how nations forget God, seeing in light of Deuteronomy 8 and Romans 1 - 2, how apostasy opens the door to paganisation -- and to judgement. Now, we need to see how this can be reversed, through observing how Paul spoke to the Athenians at their moment of kairos in about 50 AD.

As Luke records:

AC 17:16 While Paul was . . . in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Here, we first see a restlessness, a hunger for something better, for a rumour of the truth -- indeed, a blind groping after the echoes of truth that linger in the mind and heart, long after a nation has forgotten God.

For, the chaos caused by sin leaves a profound dissatisfaction in our hearts and our minds cannot truly rest unless they are anchored to God. Sooner or later, the concatenation of the disastrous consequences of sin without, and the unmet yearnings of heart and mind within, bring such a nation to crisis. And it is at that possible hinge of history -- i.e. kairos -- that God sends his spokesman to provide prophetic intellectual and cultural leadership.

So, here we see Paul, harried and hounded from one city to the next during his dangerous and strenuous Macedonian adventures, comes to Athens. And, there, we see him stirred and disturbed by the empty futility of idolatry and conscience-numbed sensuality, grimly turning as a great lion at bay. So, first he goes to the Synagogue then he begins disputing in the Market place as five centuries earlier Socrates once did.

Similar to Socrates, he drew the attention of the Areopagus, but their intent was now to find intellectual entertainment, not the notorious trial for life on the accusation of corrupting the youth and undermining the gods that led to Socrates' judicial murder.

So, courtesy those bored Stoics and Epicureans, we come to the immortal words of Paul's Areopagus address:

AC 17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

AC 17:24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.'

AC 17:29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

As the 2002 JTS/CGST Ethics Lecture notes:

. . . the Athenian leaders got more than they bargained for. For, Paul made straight for the rotten intellectual foundation of Pagan thought and culture. Pointing to its beautiful temples and monuments, he picked the altar that exposed the critical instability: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. That is, on the most important possible point of knowledge, the Athenians — the fountainhead and proud guardians of the Western intellectual, artistic and democratic traditions — were forced to admit their ignorance, in a public monument!
Paul then pointedly stated the decisive prophetic issue: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” That is, the true key to the field of Knowledge is Revelation (rather than merely human speculation, argument or experiment), starting from our God-given intuition that an orderly universe without and a rational mind and ever-probing conscience within jointly testify to a Rational, Orderly, Moral Creator. [Cf. Romans 1:18 – 32.]
Of course, and as . . . Spong, Freud, Marx, Skinner, Ayer, Crick and many others illustrate today, we may suppress or becloud such intuitions; but plainly to our intellectual, moral, and social peril; with damaging environmental and sustainability implications. However, since God knows perfectly, he can communicate additional significant — though obviously not exhaustive — truth to guide us in the face of such intellectual dilemmas, moral conundrums, and sustainability challenges. Hence, the prophetic force of Paul’s key word: “proclaim.”

The substance of Paul’s prophetic proclamation to the Athenians (and thus to Western Culture and the wider world) is therefore pregnant with beneficial implications for community order, national life, blessing and truly sustainable development:

1) The Creator-Redeemer God does not live in temples we can make with our hands. Nor does he depend on our religious leaders and institutions, rituals, gifts or offerings. Instead, it is he who made us and gave us everything we have. We are therefore his stewards in — and of — his world[36], for “in Him we live and move and have our being.”
2) From one man, God created the nations, setting their times & seasons [kairous], and their places[37], “so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” That is, the diverse fraternity of nations [ethnoi, people groups] was created to foster opportunities to demonstrate godly, harmonious social order -- not least, by restraining the possibilities for the rise of a corrupt, globally dominant regime.[38] (Further to this, when nations choose instead to forget God and His ways, making false loyalties, power, prestige, pleasure and prosperity their chief values, they walk down a road to ruin; cf. Deut. 8:17 – 20.)
3) “In the past, God overlooked [our] ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead”:
4) The time for ignorant pursuit of false loyalties and foolish agendas is over; God has intervened globally, decisively and publicly[39] by Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection: “he has made this same Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ.” [Acts 2:36.]
5) God therefore commands that we repent, undergoing a comprehensive change of heart and mind driven by recognition of the truth and godly sorrow over sin, leading to a transformed way of life [1 Cor. 6:9 – 11]. In particular, we are to receive as Lord and Saviour him who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” [John 14:6, cf. Acts 4:12.]
6) This command to repent is universal, but does not demand blind obedience: God offers public proof to us by raising Jesus from the dead. In evidence of this, we have over five hundred eyewitnesses, most of whom were still alive when the record was made, and the continued manifestation of resurrection power — in manifold ways — in the church to this day. [1 Cor. 15:1- 8, Eph. 1:17 – 23.]
7) Flowing from this, human culture is not autonomous or absolute: there is a set day for judgement of the world, a comprehensive audit carried out with perfect justice. Thus, communities and their citizens are servants of God, accountable before their Creator for truth, right, justice and the proper stewardship of resources in their care, starting with their land. This opens the door for prophetic commentary on public morality, policy and issues linked to development and sustainability. [Cf. Rom. 1:18 – 32 & 13:1 – 10.]
8) Moreover, since we are created from one ancestor, there can be no justification for nationally-, or racially-, or class-, or otherwise- motivated oppression, aggression, exploitation or prejudice. Community extends to the fraternity of all peoples, and so God refuses to answer the foolish question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Paul’s audience, however, mostly reacted with an ill-advised, illogical sneer: in effect, never mind the evidence and our acknowledged ignorance on the subject — God can’t be like that!

And, so it is today. For, worldviews profoundly shape what we perceive, and how we respond to resulting perceptions, often making us utterly and even foolishly blind to the absurdities in what we are thinking, saying and doing. That immediately shows Paul's underlying strategy: addressing the critical instabilities that exist at the foundation of worldviews that have shut their minds and hearts to God, thus opening the door for those who are truly searching -- and not just looking for entertainment or to play intellectual one-upmanship.

There were just a few in that Athenian audience, but a vital few. As the lecture continues:

However, some were willing to listen further, and a few openly turned to Christ. Scanty immediate results. But the truth had been proclaimed and backed up with adequate evidence. And, Paul, too, had made a decisive turn, seizing the intellectual and cultural initiative.

From Athens, the Apostle would go on to Corinth and Ephesus, building bases from which the Christian Faith would ultimately triumph in Greek culture. Intellectually, he would go on to expand his Mars Hill thesis, through penning the Epistle to the Romans[40], which articulated in greater detail the case that would at length prevail over classical paganism.

So, two thousand years later, we know who had the better case that fateful day. For, Paganism’s hollow intellectual and moral core now stood exposed for those with eyes to observe, and ears to listen. The future therefore belonged to the Apostle, not to the Philosophers and Politicians. Thus, from small beginnings, the churches planted in Athens and other Greek cities grew strong and prevailed.

This means that we have to be realistic in entering into debates in the face of entrenched worldviews and agendas, which often cause people to be deaf to reason and blind to the absurdities and hypocrisies in their own thought and action.

For, as Jesus warns:

Jn 3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

Sadly, the latter are all too often a scanty few in a community. But those few are a vital few. For, through discipleship, sustained evangelism and demonstration of the life-transforming truth and power of the gospel, scripture and history show us that those few, over the years, can grow to attain the tipping point in a culture, where the culture as a whole shifts its worldview, As that happens, then the second danger is that the remaining deceptions among the powerful and influential can capture the church, instead of the church transforming the culture.

So, now, the challenge is to understand and apply this Mars Hill strategy in the Caribbean and beyond in our day. That will require a major focus on listening to and critically analysing the intellectual and cultural currents of our day, then addressing the key apologetics issues and challenges that flow from that, and developing and implementing church renewal and discipling strategies that prepare the vital few for the uphill task of being a Christian counter-culture in our absurdly apostate, rapidly repaganising era in Western Culture.

In the Islam-influenced world, we face the even stiffer challenge of breaking through open hostility, major misrepresentations of the Gospel, a history that bleeds with the sins of the crusades and the colonial era, as well as the notorious all-too-frequently met with willingness of too many radicalised Muslims to resort to violence to retain the control on minds and consciences.

But, in the grace of God, we have plainly come to the kingdom for such a time as this. END

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Matt 24 Watch, 12: LGF catches BBC out in a contradiction on Hezbollah war crimes

A few weeks back, in Matt 24 Watch no 3, we had occasion to remark on the roots of BBC's now notorious bias - and that of the wider media.

In that light, attention was drawn to a framework for critically assessing and de-spinning the media, and the need for us to become far more critically aware as consumers of news and views in a world full of agenda journalism and outright propaganda.

Overnight, Charles Johnson of LGF, a major media watchdog blog that has an impressive track record -- including catching out both CBS' Dan Rather on the TANG forged memo scandal and the recent Reuters Fauxtography media manipulation attempts -- has now caught the BBC [and their major sources, Amnesty International and UN groups] out in a significant and telling self-contradiction:

BBC Ties Self in Knots to Avoid Noticing Hizballah Crimes
Here’s a priceless quote from the BBC, whose editors did not realize that two adjacent sentences in this article contradict each other: Israel to probe cluster bomb use.
As well as highlighting the issue of cluster bombs, Amnesty found that Hezbollah hid Katyusha rockets among civilians and often fired them into Israel from the cover of civilian villages.
But researchers found no evidence that Hezbollah actually used civilians as human shields during the fighting.
Firing rockets from civilian villages isn’t using civilians as shields?

Talk about "the OOPS! effect" . . .

In short, it is evident that we have a not so nice choice:

Option A: the BBC's reporters and editors were utterly unable to realise that hiding rockets among civilians and then firing them from the same villages and houses is a classic case of use of civilians as human shields. So, it utterly misread the acknowledged facts -- which clearly vindicate the Israelis -- into the very opposite: "researchers found no evidence that Hezbollah actually used civilians as human shields during the fighting."

Option B: The BBC knowingly and cynically spun the facts. That is, though they had to describe the human shield behaviour, by citing "researchers" to say that Hezbollah did not use human shields, it gave a neat sound-bite that can be used to bash the Israelis as lying to defend their unprovoked and "disproportionate" attacks on civilians.

Utter incompetence and bias, or cynical deception and bias. On either option, BBC has plainly failed in its duty to the global public, and stands again exposed as untrustworthy and biased.

Similarly, the conclusion to the BBC article is telling, as it cites and remarks on the underlying Amnesty International Report:

Hezbollah is asked to renounce its policy of reprisal rocket attacks into Israel, to stop fighters operating from civilian areas, while the government of Lebanon is urged to ensure armed groups on its territory - essentially Hezbollah - do not break humanitarian law.
Israel launched its offensive after Hezbollah militants seized two of its soldiers and killed several others during a cross-border raid on 12 July.
During the conflict Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel, while the Israeli military launched a vast air offensive across Lebanon and a ground invasion into the south.
About 1,000 Lebanese - mostly civilians - died in the conflict, while 161 Israelis, mainly soldiers, were killed.

First, who is going to make Hezbollah -- a terrorist group in effect occupying Southern Lebanon as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Foreign Legion, in defiance of UN resolutions, stop using terrorist tactics that are obviously gaining massive sympathy and even support in the international media and forums?

Second, in the absence of such self-restraint by terrorists, how can nations effectively defend themselves against terrorist stratagems and attacks -- in this case by rocket campaigns that use villages and homes as bases and target civilian areas, at a rate of over a hundered rockets a day? [It is all too easy to find fault with Israel, but I suspect it is a lot less easy to find an alternative means of self defense under the relevant circumstances that is credibly likely to be effective and does not use the sorts of weapons and tactics that Amnesty International, BBC etc are objecting to. Hint to Amnesty International, the BBC and co: Telling civilians by the hundreds of thousands to hunker down in bunkers for the indefinite future and/or to abandon their homes, farms and workplaces to bombardment by terrorists hiding behind civilian villages and houses is not a credible defence.]

Next, let us note: as even so humble a source as Wikipedia abundantly documents, Hezbollah initiated the conflict, not least by firing rockets into Israeli civilian areas:

The conflict began when Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets and mortars at Israeli military positions and border villages to divert attention from another Hezbollah unit that crossed the border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers (Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev) and killed three. Israel attempted to rescue the abducted soldiers although five more were killed by Hezbollah during the rescue mission. [Cf Haaretz report which gives details, and notes that that "[a]s soon as this barrage began, the Galilee Division conducted a routine check to ensure that all army outposts and vehicles were still in contact with headquarters, and quickly discovered that contact had been lost with the two jeeps patrolling near Zarit." This is how the raid and kidnaping were discovered. Contrast this Washington Post report, which tellingly omits reference to the initiation of rocketing and targetting of civilians by Hezbollah.]

Over the next several weeks, almost four thousand rockets were fired into Israeli civilian areas, forcing the evacuation of dozens of thousands and forcing the remainder of people in northern Israel to resort to living in underground bomb shelters. That is, it is bad aim on the part of Hezbollah coupled to effective civil defense on the part of Israel that kept down Israel's civilian death toll. So, while civilian deaths in war are horrible -- and war itself is a horror -- we must remember to put things in context.

Further to this, we must further correct: the Israeli air attacks were not at all a vast offensive reminiscent of the old WW II carpet bombing campaigns that flattened cities, generated firestorms and killed hundreds of thousands -- there is abundant easily accessible information that demonstrates specificity and limited attacks.

So, the terms BBC chose to use to describe Isrel's air attacks are again plainly tendentious and not properly warranted by the facts on the ground.

Thus, the the closing rhetorical flourishes and comparison of deaths while in context denying Hezbollah's use of human shields on their own side and suppression of properly addressing the heavy and sustained targetting of Israel's civilian population, infrastructure and economy [which sustained upwards of US$ 1.4 billions in damage] is highly tendentious and deceptive.

On cluster munitions, the headlined topic of the BBC article, let us look at a little background: easily accessed through Wikipedia. Here, we can see that "Cluster bombs are now standard air-dropped munitions for most nations, in a wide variety of types," and that "Artillery shells that employ similar principles have existed for decades." This is because they have important and legitimate military functions, duly recognised by relevant military and legal authorities:

Cluster bombs were developed in order to improve the efficiency of aerial attacks, particularly against "soft" targets like personnel. Single bombs are less useful for this purpose because they cover a smaller area (known as a "footprint" in military parlance), and their effectiveness is dependent on the accuracy of the bomb's drop. A cluster bomb functions like a shotgun, covering a wider area with a spread of miniature bombs . . . .

Most Anti-armor munitions contain shaped charge warheads to pierce the armor of tanks and armored fighting vehicles. In some cases, guidance is used to increase the likelihood of successfully hitting a vehicle. Guided submunitions can use either a shaped charge warhead or an explosively formed penetrator. Unguided shaped-charge submunitions are also very effective against entrenchments that incorporate overhead cover . . . . Anti-runway submunitions such as the JP233 are designed to penetrate concrete before detonating, allowing them to shatter and crater runway surfaces . . . . Mine-laying weapons do not detonate on contact, but scatter their cargo of land mines for later detonation. They come in antipersonnel and antitank forms. Antitank mines are nearly always used in combination with antipersonnel mines to make the antitank minefield more difficult to clear . . . . An anti-electrical cluster weapon — the CBU-94/B — was first used by the U.S. in the Kosovo War in 1999. These consist of a TMD (Tactical Munitions Dispenser) filled with 202 BLU-114/B submunitions. Each submunition contains a small explosive charge that disperses 147 reels of fine conductive fiber; either carbon fiber or aluminium coated glass fiber. Their purpose is to disrupt and damage electric power transmission systems by producing short circuits in high voltage power lines and electrical substations. On the first attack, these knocked out 70% of the electrical power supply in Serbia . . .

All of this, and more, was accessible through a single link to a commonly available source.

So, while there is a legitimate concern over unexploded munitions -- as happens with all explosive munitions [e.g. unexploded WW I shells still occasionaly kill people in Northern France] -- we should also recognise that when the Israelis unleashed their armour after penetrating the fortified pre-prepared "tank-killing" zone in Southern Lebanon with infantry, cluster munitions would have fulfilled a useful and militarily legitimate role in allowing their armour to break through the fortifications that should not have been there in the first place. Thus, the weapons would have a plainly legitimate purpose: aiding the advance to cut off the supply routes for the rockets being launched against their cities and farms by Hezbollah from the villages and houses in South Lebanon. [It is worth noting again that the fortified zone and rockets were put in place in defiance of relevant UN resolutions, and that the fighting was initiated by Hezbollah's bombardment of Israeli civilian areas as well as by their kidnapping of Israeli soldiers inside Israel.]

As for Amnesty International and UN agencies, on which the BBC has unwisely relied, we need not say much further -- the incompetence and/or biased agenda of the researchers are plainly exposed too. In short, Israel has more than a point or two in its complaints over one-sided statements, investigations, reports and actions of International bodies.

In short, there are many, many problems with the way the situation in the Middle East is being reported, and other issues of interests to Christians and others in the Caribbean and beyond. It is high time for an accounting, and for a house cleaning at Bush House, London, as well as in Amnesty International, in the UN and far beyond. But, on track record, we should not hold our breaths waiting for that to happen anytime soon.

So, the take-home lesson is plain: let the listener, reader or viewer beware! END


UPDATE: LGF, overnight, informs us that the George Soros-funded Human Rights Watch has issued a rebuke to the Palestinian use of human shields in Gaza. Their remarks are interesting and illuminating in the light of the above:

. . . Calling civilians to a location that the opposing side has identified for attack is at worst human shielding, at best failing to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from the effects of attack. Both are violations of international humanitarian law.

According to media reports, on Saturday the IDF warned Mohammedweil Baroud, a commander in the Popular Resistance Committees, to leave his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp as they planned to destroy it. Baroud reportedly summoned neighbors and friends to protect his house, and a crowd of hundreds of Palestinians gathered in, around, and on the roof of the house. The IDF said that they called off the attack after they saw the large number of civilians around the house. On Monday, the BBC also reported that the IDF had warned Wael Rajab, an alleged Hamas member in Beit Lahiya, that that they were preparing to attack his home, and that a call was later broadcasted from local mosques for volunteers to protect the home.

“There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm’s way is unlawful” . . . .

On November 3 the BBC also reported that Hamas radio broadcasted an appeal to local women to go to a mosque to protect 15 alleged militants holed up inside from Israeli forces surrounding the building. Many women went to the mosque and reportedly two were killed and 10 more injured when Israeli forces opened fire.

It is a war crime to seek to use the presence of civilians to render certain points or areas immune from military operations or to direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attack. In the case where the object of attack is not a legitimate military target, calling civilians to the scene would still contravene the international humanitarian law imperative for parties to the conflict to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from the effects of attack. In the event that such abuse takes place, however, parties to the conflict remain obliged under international humanitarian law to take precautionary measures and not to target civilians or cause excessive civilian injury or damage in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage.

Of course, all of this is to be understood in light of the background point that in the recent Lebanon conflict, Israel gave sometimes up to 48 hours notice of attacks in areas where the Hezbollah were using villages and homes as a base of military operations.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Matt 24 watch, 11: A review of the history and current agenda of Islamist Imperialism

Greg Richards, of The American Thinker blog, has done an important service to balance and fairness by posting the November 20, 2006 article: "Primer on Islamic Imperialism."

He begins with a key observation:

One of the alleged sins held against the West by Islamic radicalism – which has declared war on us through Osama bin Laden’s fatwa issued in 1998 in London – is imperialism: the imperialism of the Dutch, the British and the French from the 17th to the 20th centuries. (For some reason, Russian imperialism in Central Asia gets a pass – so far.) Israel is allegedly an outpost of European imperialism.
The original western imperial enterprise in the radical Islamic narrative was the Crusades . . . [Link added]

But, there are a few little problems with that ever-so appealing post-colonialist narrative: especially, imbalance and inaccuracy.

[In particular, a more accurate and more balanced view of Modern Israel would be to see it -- for all the undeniable sins of Israel -- as on balance the achievements of a nationalist movement that led a successful liberation struggle against both European and Arab/Muslim imperial power, joined to an even more successful land restoration and redevelopment programme that has gone on for over 100 years. It would also be helpful to pause and correct several pernicious, and indeed even propagandistic myths. As a mind-opener, just in case you are now rapidly heating up under the collar, can you tell us the significance of the names Chaim Weizmann and Feisal Hussein, and the date 1919? If you cannot, you do not know enough to comment in an informed, balanced way on the just linked and described. Similarly, you might wish to look at this summary on the Jihads and the crusades by the well-known Professor Bernard Lewis, and at his famous article on The Roots of Muslim rage.]

As Richards immediately continues:

The First Crusade began in 1095. The Crusades were undertaken to reclaim the Holy Land for Christendom. Reclaim it from whom? From the Muslims.
But Mohammed died in Medina in 632 as ruler of the Hijaz, the northwest section of Arabia along the Red Sea which includes the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. But if they only controlled the Hijaz in 632, what were the Muslims doing in Jerusalem in 1100?
Of course, they were there by conquest! They were they by virtue of Islamic imperialism – the extension of the Land of Islam (Dar al-Islam) by holy war: jihad (notwithstanding the other meanings of this term).

Thus, Richards introduces us to a forgotten corner of history, the first two major waves of Islamist imperialism, from 622 [the date of Mohammed's flight to Medina, at which time he acquired the means of military conquest and began his wars with the pagan, Christian and Jewish Arabs that culminated in the conquest of Mecca in 630] to the 700s, then again under the Turks from the 1400s to 1683.

But, when the last siege of Vienna was lifted in 1683, and on to the post-World War I disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the placing of much of the Arab heartlands under the tutelage of League of Nations Mandates in the 1920's - 40's, Muslim arms went into a major period of decline. The several humiliating defeats at the hands of Israel seemed to underscore just how steep that decline was.

But, from the time when the Americans backed the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan leading to the withdrawal of the USSR from that country, then onward to the collapse of the Soviet Union [which in Islamist eyes they achieved], there has been a resurgence of Islamist militarism and conquest, aptly captured in the Muslim Brotherhood's 100-year programme for global subjugation. And now, of course, through the various suicide bombings, insurgencies, civilian-targetting rocket campaigns and supportive propaganda, there is a sense of elation among extremist Muslims today, as they see the 100 year programme of global subjugation unfolding.

But, there is a telling, politically incorrect Caribbean saying on the unwisdom of swapping a dog for a monkey as one's lord and master. That brings us to a sobering need to evaluate alternatives on a fair comparative basis.

Thus, Richards continues:

It is pointless to compare human enterprise to some abstract ideal that has never existed. As Sowell points out, if the standard is set high enough, anything will fail.
Was the British Empire – the archetype of Western imperialism – a bad thing?
As compared to what? As compared to the Muslim Empires? As compared to them, the British Empire was a model of enlightenment. The Muslims pride themselves on their tolerance of minorities. But that tolerance came at the cost of dhimmitude – second-class citizenship and payment of tributes. The British Empire was, yes, established by force, but it was not sustained only by force. It was also sustained by consent. And it left behind a number of the freest, richest, most liberal countries on earth. As compared to the Muslims, the British look pretty good.
But it is not the point of this article that Arab/Muslim imperialism was an evil, or at least was not a unique evil. It was a human enterprise with its strengths and weaknesses. Muslim culture at its highest was high indeed . . . . But so are our own. Today. We can’t have a double standard here – being impressed by the achievements and conquests of Arab/Muslim civilization but at the same time embarrassed by the even more impressive achievements and conquests of the West. If conquest is something to be embarrassed by, if it is a moral disqualification, then the Arab/Muslims are at the head of the line; Europe is well back on the list! And whatever the achievements of medieval Muslim culture, and they were many, they are in the past. There are few achievements today, and none to compare with those of the West.

Worth a thought or two indeed.

So, in the face of such a tidal wave from the east [as well as the tidal wave of decristianisation from the North] we here in the Caribbean have now got to think for ourselves and act in our own best interests. And, we the Christians of the Caribbean need to awaken to the force of the Back to Jerusalem vision.

For: if not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not us, then who? END

Monday, November 20, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 2: Why and how nations tend to forget God

Deuteronomy* -- in effect the Constitution of the ancient Commonwealth of Israel -- contains several of the most extraordinary passages in all literature.

Perhaps chief among these is:

DT 31:16 . . . the LORD said to Moses: "You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, `Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?' . . . .

DT 31:19 "Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. 20 When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. 21 And when many disasters and difficulties come upon them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath" . . .

The song follows, in Ch 32 -- and is well worth the read.

Having recited it as a grim warning to the nation, Moses* then said: "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you--they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." [Deut 32:46 -7, cf. ch 8:1 - 20, esp. vv. 17 - 20.]

How sad is it to then see, in Judges (outlining a pattern that repeated itself ever so many times in the History of Israel, ending up in repeated judgements culminating in the Babylonian Exile and the Roman Exile):

JDG 2:6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. 7 The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel . . . .

JDG 2:10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel . . . 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.

In brief, even growing up in the midst of an ongoing miracle of God, and hearing the miraculous story of your parents' lives is not enough to ward off a drift into forgetting God and breaking covenant. For, God has no grandchildren -- we must all individually come to know him for ourselves and learn walk with him ourselves.

Otherwise, in the teeth of even the most explicit warnings from God, we will drift away from him across time as new generations arise who know not God nor what he has done for our nations, and turn away from him in ingratitude and resentment over the moral restraints he puts on our behaviour. Never mind the telling force of Moses' wise counsel:

DT 10:12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

So, while at first it may seem odd indeed to start exploring a theme on understanding our times in the interests of evangelisation of the nations by focusing on how nations turn away from God/apostasise, in fact, that is the very core of the matter.

For, as the early chapters of Genesis show both before and after the Flood, and as Rom 1 points out, the now pagan nations did not start out by not knowing God, but by turning their backs on and forgetting him. In short, paganisation and suicidal enslavement to clever images backed up by lies and out-of-control passions are the result of an earlier apostasy, one that probably took generations to have its full force:

RO 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

RO 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator . . . . RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Now, too, we see a rising tide of apostasy in our own region coming from the North, where over the past 50 - 250 years the Europeans and North Americans have increasingly forgotten God. So, it is worth briefly pausing to amplify on vv. 19 - 20 by using the concept of inference to best explanation (or, the logic of abduction) to look at the force and implications of the evident design in the cosmos and in life, and the implicit trust we put in our minds and in core morality:

1] Quite often, we do not reason so much FROM facts TO conclusions they imply, but rather by "explaining" otherwise puzzling but credible facts in light of "the best" of competing hypotheses. To do so, we compare such alternative models or theories or explanations on [1] factual adequacy, [2] coherence, and [3] simplicity or elegance, i.e. a subtle balance between being simplistic on one hand or an ad hoc patchwork on the other. By adding abduction/IBE to our logical toolkit, we will enhance our ability to apply the better known approaches to reasoning, deduction and induction, as well. [Cf a useful elaboration here. Also, a discussion of the theological application of the concept here, in the context of cosmology.]

2] So, when we confront the starry sky and learn of the astonishing fine-tuning of the observable cosmos necessary for us to be here to so wonder, it drives us to ask: why? In turn, we can easily see that the live option alternatives are [a] that there is an in effect infinite material chaos that behaves at random and just happened to throw us up, or [b] that we are the product of an intelligent, purposeful, powerful designer. Of these, the first is an obvious piece of ad hoc patchwork that resorts to an inherently unobservable -- can we see infinity? -- metaphysical speculation [too often disguised to the public and scientists alike as "science"] to prop up a faltering evolutionary materialist view. The second is a classic and plainly abundantly well-supported inference to design on the scale of the universe.

3] Similarly, when we look in our bodies at the astonishing functionally specified complex information [FSCI] in the molecular machinery of the cell, starting with DNA, we find that neither natural regularities nor chance nor both in combination can explain either the origin of life or its massive diversity. The institutionally dominant evolutionary materialism fails again -- and on the evidence, sadly, many of its advocates are resorting to the classic stratagems of deceptive, rage-driven rhetoric and even to harassment of those who dare to question the dominant view.

4] Then, when we look within at our own minds, we find that we are forced to trust the capacity of our minds to in general perceive the world accurately, and to reason correctly. But, on evolutionary materialist premises, our minds -- without residue -- are produced and controlled by forces that would be utterly irrelevant to logic, truth or validity. Indeed, that is how such thinkers often dismiss their critics: we have had a bad potty training experience, we are constrained by our class-roots, etc etc. But, that logic cuts both ways: Sigmund, what of your potty training? Karl, what of your own class origins? B. F., are you not just yet another rat in the cosmic maze? And so on. This is a classic self-referential inconsistency. [Cf Plantinga's longer discussion here.] So, if we must trust our minds, we need to accept an alternative view that leads to and coherently explains how we have generally trustworthy [though of course sometimes error-prone] minds!

5] Finally, on morals, many atheists think that e.g. the problem of evil is a knockout blow to the notion of an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful God. But to think like that, they show that they are simply not current, given the acknowledged force of Plantinga's famous Free Will defense: as long as it is logically possible for God to use the potential for evil to create a higher good, the existence of God is not at all disproved by the actual existence and extent of evil we see. And, so long as the existence of virtues such as love - the queen of all virtues -- require the power of choice, evil is possible.

6] But also, they fail to see a key but implicit self reference. For, we should ask: why is evil real, significant, painful and offensive? To answer that, we must accept the reality of the moral, which immediately means that we accept that the world has in it entities that are real and true but are beyond the reach of empirical sciences: reality is not to be equated with physical existence, and knowledge is not locked up to the products of the empirical sciences. Then, since evil specifically violates our sense of obligation to justice/fairness and rights, we must ask: whence do these come and why are they so important? To that, the only defensible answer is: God is the foundation of morality.

In short, Paul was dead right to say in Rom 1:20 that since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

But, equally, if we refuse to acknowledge of be thankful to our gracious, loving, provident Creator, we will be tempted to make up clever stories to explain away uncomfortable evidence that points to him, and turn away to images and myths that lead us astray, becoming endarkened in mind rather than enlightened and falling prey to out-of-control, self- and socially- destructive, often perverted passions. That,plainly is the story of the lands of the North in our day, and surges from that tidal wave have been hitting our region with increasing frequency and force over the past several decades.

So, will we now insist on knowing God in the face of Jesus for ourselves? Will we counter the clever lies and temptations that would lure so many of our people astray from God? And, will we in turn go back to the lands of the North -- from which the missionaries who blessed us with the Gospel originally came -- to remind them of Him whom they are so busily forgetting?

If not now, then, when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then, who? END


* NB: It is common nowadays to dismiss the five books of Moses through the Documentary/JEDP Hypothesis and the like. However, that selectivley hyperskeptical hypothesis has long been untenable, not least because it originally started from the notion that writing had not been invented in Moses' day and because it depends crucially on a pre-supposed, imposed Hegelian view of the evolution of religions, from "lower" to "higher." Indeed, it is worth noting how the early and current proponents of this view and other linked or derived skeptical/liberal theological ideas have consistently dismissed the force of relevant archaeological evidence that is best explained as being consistent with the substantial credibility of the traditional view of the OT and NT. Cf discussion here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Matt 24 Watch, 10: The 2006 South African Law on Marriage

This week, BBC and many other international and regional news media headlined the report that South Africa's parliament has now -- on a party-line vote, under the instruction of the Courts -- legalised so-called "same-sex marriage."

This follows up on two key developments over the past decade:

[1] The South African 1996 post-Apartheid Constitution has in it a clause that forbids "discrimination" on the basis of "sexual orientation." As the just linked World Magazine article noted in December 2005: "At the time Christians warned the provision would open the door to gay marriage. Now it has."

[2] In 2002 to 2005, on a suit initiated by a lesbian couple, the High Court, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Courts in effect ruled that the common law definition of marriage had to be reworked to include same sex marriages. As Wikipedia reports, the statement of the last of these is telling: 'It ruled that the exclusion of same-sex marriages in South African law "represented a harsh if oblique statement by the law that same-sex couples are outsiders, and that their need for affirmation and protection of their intimate relations as human beings is somehow less than that of heterosexual couples."[2]'

Further to this, we should note, from a Christianity Today article, how a Constitutional Court judge responded in court to appeals to t he Bible made by representative Christian groups: 'Judge Albie Sachs then interjected to say it would be a "worrying day" if judges were asked to give meaning to religious texts.'

Not surprisingly, as the South African Globe and Mail reports, the Constitutional Court "gave Parliament 12 months to effect the necessary change in the Marriage Act. " In short, even the timing of the recent legislation was all-too-predictable: just before the deadline set by the court on December 1, 2005.

Of course, while there were protests that the matter should have been subjected to referendum -- and it would, with near certainty, have lost such a vote -- it is held that the proceedings just summarised are all legally and properly democratic, and merely give the same "legal right" -- h'mm, does anyone have an inherent right to marry? [I thought access to marriage was a matter of agreement and consent not binding claims against parties in disagreement . . .] -- to marry to homosexuals [the term properly takes in both males and females] as to heterosexuals.

In short, all seems "legal" and "proper."

So, why is there a sour taste in the mouth and a queasy feeling in the tummy?

For very good reason indeed -- for what is "legal" is not at all to be conflated or confused with what is proper. Indeed, slavery and apartheid and many other abuses now rightly rejected were quite legal in their time.

So, let us pause:

1] We see first of all a classic confusion of liberty with license, libertinism and outright amorality: the former respects the laws of nature and of our Creator, the latter (as Romans 1 - 3 warns of) throw over the traces and become a counterfeit. In particular, we are plainly made male and female, for obvious reasons aptly summed up by Jesus:
MT 19:4 "Haven't you read," . . . "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' 5 and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
2] In short, marriage as properly understood is part of the creation order and reflects our fundamental nature, thus the inherent and inescapable law of that nature. It therefore has a naturally proper objective and obvious definition, and court rulings and parliamentary decrees that defy that nature simply try to separate what God has inextricably joined. So, quite similar to the easy- marriage- and- easy- divorce games Jesus directly addressed by defining what marriage properly is, and pointing out Who has the right to define it, the attempts by the South African Courts and Parliament and the wider promotion of homosexuality [NB: this term, strictly, covers both male and female forms] are objectively disordered and personally and socially destructive. This is exactly what Romans 1 warns of, for cultures that turn their backs on God and his moral law, as Judge Sachs of South Africa ever so plainly has:
Rom 1: 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

RO 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

RO 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another . . . . RO 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
3] It is therefore no surprise then to see that in a Western culture that has through evolutionary materialism quite literally put images (often, as Wells pointed out, deceitful ones) made to look like men, birds, animals and reptiles in the place of God -- usually in Museums and textbooks and the media more generally -- that, professing ourselves to be wise, we have set out on foolishness, most notably sexual foolishness. It is further no surprise to see that our judges and legislators should take a lead in such folly, as the grim warning in Psalm 2 tells us!

4] It should come as no surprise then, to see that there is abundant research -- reportedly something like 10,000 studies, that children reared in a stable family with their mothers and fathers present, thrive far better than those raised in what used to be called "broken homes." Of course, this is subjected to the now all-too-familiar cynical, rage-filled strawman attacks, ad hominems and general dismissive mockery in pursuit of improper shifting of the burden of proof, by the usual agenda-driven activists and their fellow travellers. But in fact the glorified common-sense conclusion in the studies is not at all surprising or unexpected. Here is Focus on the Family [FOF]:
More than ten thousand studies have concluded that kids do best when they are raised by loving and committed mothers and fathers. They are less likely to be on illegal drugs, less likely to be retained in a grade, less likely to drop out of school, less likely to commit suicide, less likely to be in poverty, less likely to become juvenile delinquents, and for the girls, less likely to become teen mothers. They are healthier both emotionally and physically, even thirty years later, than those not so blessed by traditional parents . . . .
We must also consider a world of the future where immorality is even more rampant than today, where both unbridled homosexual and heterosexual liaisons are the norm. The apostle Paul described such a society in the book of Romans, referring apparently to ancient Rome. He wrote, "They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Romans 1:29–31).
It appears likely now that the demise of families will accelerate this type of decline dramatically, resulting in a chaotic culture that will rip kids apart emotionally.
5] In short, the first common-sense and technical issue is: why is it that we are setting out to rob children of a healthy environment for their upbringing by institutionalising "families" which cut clean across the natural order and the strong consensus of research? (Indeed, in too many cases, this includes exposing adopted children to pedophiles; even though there is something like a ten times higher probability of abuse in such situations. Contrast the telling prejudice against Christian couples in American states where the homosexual agenda -- and yes, it is an agenda -- is institutionally dominant.)

6] Further to this, now that several jurisdictions have for several years put in place so-called same sex marriages and/or civil unions more or less tantamount to the same thing, we can also see empirically that the unions in question are utterly distinct from proper marriages -- they are short-term [typically lasting at most 1 - 3 years], unstable and riddled with open promiscuity. They also tend to promote a tendency to simply shack up in the heterosexual community, due to the underlying message: marriage is dead, irrelvant and unimportant. For -- and this is the plain objective of the homosexuals in pushing for so-called same-sex marriage: for good or ill, the law is a teacher.

7] And that is the real agenda at work. For, as the same recent Focus on the Family report aptly notes:
. . . when the State sanctions homosexual relationships and gives them its blessing, the younger generation becomes confused about sexual identity and quickly loses its understanding of lifelong commitments, emotional bonding, sexual purity, the role of children in a family, and from a spiritual perspective, the "sanctity" of marriage. Marriage is reduced to something of a partnership that provides attractive benefits and sexual convenience, but cannot offer the intimacy described in Genesis. Cohabitation and short-term relationships are the inevitable result. Ask the Norwegians, the Swedes, and the people from the Netherlands. That is exactly what is happening there.
8] Finally, liberty is about establishing justice, which in turn protects our rights. But, a right, properly, is a moral claim we make on others based on our inherent nature as creatures under God fulfilling the purpose set for us by our Creator -- no other sustainable basis for rights exists. Indeed, the evolutionary materialist alternative [the relevant competing view] in the end boils down to this: might makes right, i.e power substitutes for rights; thence its absurd relativism and skepticism about rights, which wreaks havoc in the community, especially through manipulating institutions of power and law; it is a sign of the disintegration of Western culture as it seeks to forget God [Deut 8:17 - 20]. No wonder, then, that those caught up in a culture dominated by that self-referentially inconsistent worldview [follow up the links to see why I say that!] seek to undermine sexual morality and family life.

9] So, we should stand firmly on the telling point that Jefferson and the American Congress made in the US Declaration of Independence in 1776: it is self-evident (rejecting it leads straight to absurdity and/or hypocritical inconsistencies) that "all men are created equal" and that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights," which is it is the duty of the state to protect. As such, claimed rights, obviously, must reflect our underlying nature, which is of course defined by, inter alia, our maleness and femaleness.

Thus, judges and parliaments -- whether in South Africa or in the Caribbean or anywhere else -- simply cannot separate what God has joined together, and will bring destructive chaos in the attempt to do so.

May God open our eyes to see that and turn from such folly before it is too late. END

UPDATE: Link to BBC added, slight cleaning up and adjustments.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Matt 24 Watch, 9: The Haggard case and the challenge of sanctification

In today's WND, Rev Jesse Lee Peterson draws out vital lessons (but also misses a key point) in addressing the Rev Ted Haggard case, aptly -- and, sadly -- illustrating some of the commonly encountered gaps in evangelical thought on sanctification. I think it is important to take this issue up here, as scandal and slander over breakdowns in purity of life are plainly now major weapons being used to promote that falling away and deception that Jesus warns us about so strongly in Matt 24. (Of course, this is one of those issues which is replete with personal challenges to take the plank out of one's eye first to see clearly to help one's brother with sawdust, so I write because of the force of the issue, not out of any self-righteous sense of moral or intellectual superiority!)

So, in that spirit of recognising and repenting of our own faults and seeking to encourage one another in the good fight, let us now cite Rev Peterson:

Ted Haggard – married with 5 children – fought for a ban on same-sex marriage this past election until he was "outed" by the prostitute . . . . Mike Jones, the homosexual prostitute who exposed Haggard, is a tool of the devil. If this person had true love for his fellow man, he would have approached Haggard and encouraged him to stop his sinful and destructive behavior.

Jesus Christ said we must be born again. When you're born of the spirit of God, you can do the things that are good and righteous and turn away from evil. In contrast, most Christians today believe that one can be "born again" and still sin. Yet when Haggard sinned, he was held to a different standard.

I'm not saying what Haggard did was right, nor am I trying to justify his actions, but I believe that allowing this man to openly discuss his struggles will benefit Christians greatly.

In reality, overcoming sin is not only possible, it is commanded:

No one who is a child of God sins because God's seed remains in him. Nor can he sin, because he is a child of God. This is what distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. ... (1 John[3]: 9-10)

I pray that Rev. Haggard would surrender himself totally to God and ask God to give him insight and understanding to overcome this spirit that has made a home in him, causing him to do the things he doesn't want to do.

In Ephesians (chapter 6, verse 10), Paul describes "The Spiritual War" this way:

… For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world. … That is why you must take up all God's armor, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day. …

Like most Christians, Rev. Haggard did not know how to fight this spiritual battle. The demons plaguing Haggard plague us all. We all do things we'd never want exposed as Haggard's darkness has been exposed. We must recognize this, and come to "know thyself" . . .

However, we need to read the whole of 1 Jn 1:5 - 2:2, as a context for understanding 1 Jn 3:9 - 10, to see the force of what is arguably a more accurate rendering:
1JN 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1JN 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

1JN 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
I have of course highlighted that telling word, "we," which in context includes the Apostle John -- perhaps the most "saintly" Christian of all time.

For, as that apostle introduces the subject of sanctification, it is plain that he is speaking of a decisive turnabout in life from walking in darkness to walking in light, which opens the door to fellowship with God and one another, and to purification. In that context, "we" are all turning from and emerging from the habits of sin in a process of mutual support and penitent confession leading to cleansing and growth. And, as 2:1 - 2 reminds us, though it is not what we
should do, we may and do stumble into sin; but if that happens we are to reach out to our Advocate and get up, seeking his cleansing and power to continue to walk and grow in the light.

In this light of a pattern of growth in grace as we walk in the light in fellowship with one another and our Lord, and of associated incrementally successful struggle to overcome sin, we then see the force of the NIV's rendering of the main text Mr Peterson cites, 1 Jn 3:9 - 10:
9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
That is, this text is best understood as speaking to a progressive, successful breaking out of the habits of sin, not as a sudden perfection in righteousness. Thus in turn, we can understand the underlying pattern of failure Mr Haggard confessed to:
For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years I have sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. …

When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. …

In short, Mr Haggard struggled with "objectively disordered passions," which would resurface from time to time with frightening force. The only truly effective remedy was ongoing humble and humbling mutual accountability and honest communication/confession, and when that stopped -- sadly but not surprisingly -- he stumbled and in this case opened the door to destructive scandal by those serving Satan's causes.

This is of course precisely the pattern in view in 1 Jn 1:5 - 10: it is as we walk in the light and in mutually accountable fellowship under our Lord that we experience growth in grace and victory over sins. But, when the loneliness of leadership intervened and communication and open fellowship waned, the darkness returned. For, none of us is strong enough to "go it alone" -- nor are we meant to.

In short, the struggle to overcome life-dominating sins [and yes, associated demons] is properly and biblically a community, fellowship-based effort of mutual support in walking in the light.

This we can see from another classic passage, in Hebrews 10:22 - 25:
10:22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
And, Titus 2:11 - 14 underscores just how central this is to the Christian life:
TIT 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Unfortunately, much of the Evangelical church has misunderstood the dynamics and/or the centrality of sanctification [not least though the opposed extremes of legalism and antinomianism], and we are suffering the consequences; especially among those if us who are in leadership positions. That is, growth in grace is in significant part a body-ministry process, not just an individual effort; though, at the same time we must each sustain his or her own personal relationship with God, starting with the discipline of daily quiet times for prayer, reflection and meditative reading of the Word of God - cf. Psalm 1 and Josh 1:1 - 9. I am also -- as one of those who exposed the ICOC's unfortunately abusive systems -- painfully aware that hierarchical accountability systems that run one-way are prone to shocking abuse. MUTUALITY of accountability is vital.

Accordingly, I believe that the cell structure is a key to renewal of the church in its mission under its mandate, not just in outreach through evangelistic encounter groups or nurture cells for the relatively new christian, but also in team-based ministry. (Indeed, let us note how important small teams were in the ministry of the church in the New Testament, not only with Jesus and the twelve, but also in local presbyteries and in missionary teams. I believe Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship has a model we should all explore.)

So, as we reflect on this sad case, let us draw out some redemptive lessons for the renewal of our lives and the church in pursuit of our mission under God in the world. And, let us not neglect to pray for those involved in this sad case, that out of this darkness, God may yet bring light. END

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Matt 24 watch, 8: Updates on Castro and on the Middle East

Over the past week or so I have noted several important matters but have not had the time to work up a coherent post. However, some of these items are sufficiently important and neglected in the usual news sources in our region to note on, in light of the Matt 24 updates themes.

Maybe, we need a regular "spiked news" -- that is a term for news that is not rpeorted on for whatever reason -- feature for this blog, then?

Okay, here goes, leading with Castro and going on to the Middle East:

1] Castro's health status:

A recent AP release sums up US intelligence estimates on Castro's health, as he approaches his 80th birthday next month:
Castro's health is believed by U. S. officials to be deteriorating and the 79-year-old Cuban dictator, who may have terminal cancer, is not expected to live through 2007 . . . .

U.S. government officials say there is still some mystery about Castro's diagnosis, his treatment and how he is responding. But these officials believe the 80-year-old leader has cancer of the stomach, colon or pancreas.

He was seen weakened and thinner in official state photos released late last month, and it is considered unlikely that he will return to power or survive through the end of next year, said the U.S. government and defense officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the politically sensitive topic.

With chemotherapy, Castro may live up to 18 months, said the defense official. Without it, expected survival would drop to three months to eight months.

American officials will not talk publicly about how they glean clues to Castro's health. But U.S. spy agencies include physicians who study pictures, video, public statements and other information coming out of Cuba.

That estimate underscores the concerns that surfaced in recent weeks, and raises the issue of how we the Caribbean can help Cuba make a transition to a more free, open and prosperous society -- especially, one that is open to the blessings of the gospel.

But also, given worrying signs of an emerging alliance between Islamists [especially Iran] and third world radicals including Mr Chavez, who is also aligned with Cuba, we can see that the ongoing and escalating World conflict [cf below] may unfortunately easily spill over into our region. [Cf a review here, by Carlos Alberto Montaner, a significant commentator in Latin America, though of course this will also need to be taken with a grain of salt in light of its own evident biases; but the concern over the implications of the ongoing Venezuelan arms buildup he builds on are very much a matter we need to reflect on. Not least, I am concerned over the implications of the PetroCaribe deal which puts us in deep debt to Venezuela, which has historically had territorial ambitions targetting Caricom member states.]

Let us pray for wisdom for our regional leaders, and for a willingness to face unpleasant and unwelcome issues and sets of alterntives, then act with resolution and fortitude. For, if we fail that test, we will be following the notorious footsteps of France in 1936 - 40. Down that road lies disaster.

2] Continuing aftermath of the Lebanon campaign, 1:

The relationship between Israel -- nb we should pause to review its modern history and straighten out the many propagandistic myths that paint it in an unfavourable light as a colonising aggressor rather than the most successful global case of a C20 national liberation struggle, e.g. the now commonly enountered accusation of apartheid -- and the UNIFIL, especially its French leadership, is very fragile. Indeed, in recent weeks we saw where there was a report that the French have been very close to firing on Israeli jets over Lebanon. At the same time, the rearming of Hezbollah -- in continued utter violation of the relevant UNSC resolutions, notably 1559 and 1701 -- continues apace, with a blind eye from the UN.

In that context, Jihad Watch has made a very interesting catch:
French officials have regularly complained that Israel's overflights of Lebanon are counter to UN Security Council resolution 1701, which included the cease-fire that brought an end to 33 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters on August 14 . . . . The UN peacekeeping chief in Lebanon, Major General Alain Pelligrini of France, said last month that the flyovers violated the cease-fire resolution and warned that force might be used to stop the incursions . . . . A senior French officer with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, insisted that the "Israeli army provocation" took place.
"The Israeli aircraft carried out a simulated attack," the official told the media on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military spokesman said, however, that the "Israeli air force never carries out offensive overflights over south Lebanon".
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said a caution would be given to the Israeli authorities, saying that "Israeli flights over southern Lebanon are a source of serious concern".
Israel says its continued overflights do not constitute a breach of the truce because Hezbollah has not disarmed and its two soldiers remain missing.
This underscores the underlying inconsistency of treatment and improper attempts to assert or imply an immoral equivalency betweent he Israeli state and the terrotists that have attacked it and sought its destruction.

In simple and direct terms: it was Hezbollah that initiated the conflict by bombarding Israeli communities and kidnapping Israeli soldiers in Israel, half a decade after Israel has withdrawn behind the Internationally recognised boundary; in turn after an incursion triggered by a pattern of attacks and bombardments from southern Lebanon. In preparation for that, Hezbollah openly violated UNSC Resolution 1559, arming themselves with upwards of 13,000 missiles and rocketrs, up to 4,000 of which were launched [mostly from civilian areas] into Northern Israel, targetting civilian areas. After the ceasefire, which was based on international pressure on Israel in light of Lebanese civilian casualties, Hezbollah has continued to rearm, Syria is talking of following suit, Gaza is arming as well, and there is silence.

But, Israeli reconnaissance overflights in a context of an openly declared enemy in open violation of ceasefire terms and rearming for round 2, are the "violation" worthy of being noted and acted on!

"He hit back first" is its own condemnation.

3] Aftermath, 2:

It has been cogently argued that South Lebanon is in effect an Iranian-controlled enclave occupied in Division strength by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' equivalent to the French Foreign Legion: Hezbollah. In that context, and given that the article reveals the fantasy world in which the Islamist radicals of Iran are operating in, we should pause to listen to this recent translation by MEMRI:

“The 33-day war ended without any of the goals that had been declared by the Zionist government and the commanders of its military being attained - and this was the first time that Israel was forced to accept its complete downfall...

“In the 33-day war, the Lebanese Hizbullah destroyed at least 50% of Israel [and therefore] half the path to the liberation of Jerusalem equals 33 days. Now, only (at most) 50% of the path [to Israel’s destruction] remains. This remaining 50% is easier than the 50% that was already accomplished. Now, in the face of the degree of fear and lack of confidence that has been deeply implanted in [all] parts of the Zionist regime, the Muslim peoples of the region, and particularly the four Arab countries neighboring Palestine [i.e. Israel] - Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon - are full of hope and confidence, and they have no doubt, that they will be able to very quickly overcome the Zionist regime...

This is very revealing indeed, given the pursuit of nuclear ambitions by the Iranian regime, and the repeated public statements by its current president about wiping Israel off the map or the like.

4] Isues and options on nuclear weapons proliferation:

Ms Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post recently put up a sobering review on the issues underlying Mr Bush's widely disdained and dismissed description of the then emerging nuclear threat across Iraq, Iran and North Korea, which now seems to be metastasising to Syria and beyond:
A week before the US Congressional elections The New York Times published a front-page story which all but admitted that Iraq's nuclear program had been active until March 2003, when the US-led coalition deposed Saddam Hussein . . . .

In response to the Times story an international security Web site run by Ray Robinson published a translation of a story that ran on the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Seyassah's Web site on September 25. Citing European intelligence sources, the Al-Seyyassah report claims that in late 2004 Syria began developing a nuclear program near its border with Turkey. According to the report, Syria's program, which is being run by President Bashar Assad's brother Maher and defended by a Revolutionary Guards brigade, "has reached the stage of medium activity."

The Kuwaiti report maintains that the Syrian nuclear program relies "on equipment and materials that the sons of the deposed Iraqi leader, Uday and Qusai… transfer[red] to Syria by using dozens of civilian trucks and trains, before and after the US-British invasion in March 2003." The report also asserts that the Syrian nuclear program is supported by the Iranians who are running the program, together with Iraqi nuclear scientists and Muslim nuclear specialists from Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union.

The program "was originally built on the remains of the Iraqi program after it was wholly transferred to Syria" . . . .

In his State of the Union Address in 2002, Bush placed Iraq in the same category of threat to US national security as Iran and North Korea. The three rogues states, Bush argued constituted an "axis of evil" that must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The post-Saddam insurgency in Iraq - an insurgency largely facilitated and sponsored by Iran - has caused the US and its coalition partners no end of grief . . . Frustration with the continued bloodletting in Iraq was undoubtedly the most significant factor that caused the Republican Party to lose control of both houses of Congress in last Tuesday's elections.

And yet, for all the difficulties, pain and frustration the post-Saddam insurgency has caused the US, the toppling of Saddam's regime successfully prevented Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons . . . . To that degree, Bush was neither wrong nor premature when he made it known in the months following the invasion that the US had accomplished its mission in Iraq . . . . But as the months and years have progressed it has become clear that far from being a warning to other would-be nuclear armed dictatorships, the US-led invasion of Iraq was a one-shot deal. As Saddam was captured in his hole, Teheran and Pyongyang marched forward, unchallenged in their campaign to become nuclear powers . . . .

Iran, North Korea and al-Qaida have all been quick to interpret the Democratic victory in last Tuesday's Congressional elections as a sign that the US has chosen to turn its back on the threat they pose to America. By firing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and replacing him with Robert Gates, who supports appeasing the mullahs in Teheran and finding a fig-leaf excuse to vacate Iraq, Bush has done everything to prove America's enemies right.

Last week the Sunday New York Times reported that Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE have all announced their intention to build civilian nuclear reactors . . . . It is not hard to see the lesson of these developments. As the Iraq campaign shows clearly, while the price of taking action to prevent rogue regimes from acquiring nuclear weapons is high, the price of not acting is far higher . . . .

The US and its allies are paying a high price for having successfully prevented Saddam from getting nuclear bombs. The price that Israel or the US, or both, will pay to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear bombs is liable to be even higher. Yet the alternative to paying that price will be suffering, destruction and death on an unimaginable scale.

The issue, in short, is well posed by Mr Netanyahu: whether we are willing to learn the lessons of the Munich settlement of 1938 - appeasement of aggressive dictators only makes them stronger in the war, it does not avert the war, but this time with nukes clearly in play. (Of course, there are always the usual deniers of the lesson, but in fact without the Skoda arms factory, the LT 38 and LT 35 tanks [the LT38s especially which were a core part of Rommel's famous 7th Panzer Division that did such execution in France in 1940, catapulting him to world fame] and the trucks thus made available to him through taking over the Sudetenland and then the rest of Czechoslovakia, Hitler was simply in no position to have waged the sort of campaign that he did in Poland and in France in 1939 and 1940.)


So far, it is plain that Santayana is right: those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its worst chapers, and by and large we refuse to learn the lessons of history.

Let us ask why it is that these issues are simply not on the agenda for highlighted discussion, regionally as well as globally? END